Royce Ng is an artist based in Hong Kong. He often works with the anthropologist Daisy Bisenieks in the collective Zheng Mahler


in collaboration with Daisy Bisenieks

2011, Nomads on Vacation: a musical in seven parts, performance

w/ Park Soyoung, Yerim Yang, Kim Min Cho, Hwang Daho, Song Ga Yeon, Jeong Soo Yin, Lee Chang Seok, Kim Hyun Woo, Song Hyejin, Kim Jin Sung, Lee Gwang Hoon, Park Seol, Lee Seung Il, Tassika Mean J, Kim Yeichi, John Bartley

'Nomads on Vacation: a musical in seven parts' is a community based performance created by Royce Ng and Daisy Bisenieks performed at Kunsthalle Gwangju. It is a site-specific work structured as an imaginary conference convened to discuss the past, present and future of the Asian Culture Complex (ACC) in Gwangju, South Korea. After writing a series of texts based on their research into the ACC, we invited young, non-professional and first time performers from the Gwangju public to creatively interpret our ideas into a performance which incorporates elements of amateur theatre, the musical and science-fiction to raise questions and create public discussion about the ACC.

Nomads on Vacation: a musical in seven parts
Topic 1: A Man and His Lamp
Topic 2: A History of South Korean Political Economy 1961-1979
Topic 3: A Conversation between the Building and its Architect
Topic 4: The Wheeled Wooden Horse
Topic 5: From Counter-Cultures to Kitchen Counters
or Steve Jobs was a Hippy. Topic 6: The Democratic Impulse Embedded Within the Creative Class or ‘the Central Party Committee is really into Richard Florida’
Topic 7: Wish you were here! Notes from a Nomadic Cyborg Community

The woman who lived and died many times. Part 1.
Kim Swoo Guen
Kyu Sung Woo
Asia Culture Complex
The Namyeong-dong detatched office of the National Police Headquarters in Seoul Steve Jobs
-Steve Jobs as hippie
-Steve Jobs in India
-Steve Jobs after being fired from Apple
-Steve Jobs returning to Apple
The woman who lived and died many times. Part 2. (Ai Wei Wei)
Nomadic Cyborg Artists

Part 1: A Man and his Lamp
He had travelled far. His journey had been a treacherous and difficult one. It was getting dark once more so he lit a stick to guide his passage. He didn’t want to stop though he didn’t want his light to arouse his presence either for he had heard the mountain summit was infamous for the ‘brazen five’, a group of rapacious bandits. As the man stood on a steep pass, his eyes caught sight of a river carving a path and eventually disappearing around the seams of a far distant mountain range. He could see the towering mountains ahead reflected starkly in the river. Could the river take him to a better place? Suddenly, he spotted a humming glow of orange lights by the distant water. What a sight! Its warm glow quietly pulsated and beckoned him into the fertile plains below. There he found others like him, journeymen passing through and exchanging harrowing stories of how they survived so far. It was the ideal place to rest. He found shelter with them and their lamps kept them warm as the night cooled.

Part 2: A History of South Korean Political Economy 1961-1979
There was a woman who was born and died many times. In her third lifetime she was born illegitimately, and since she was unwanted the mother treated her very cruelly and abandoned the child altogether. Though she was amongst the smallest and most undernourished children in the village, she would grow to finally become as strong in mind and body as the others. This was because she had a long memory of the skills and experiences she had learnt in her past lives. And though her arms were thin and weak, her legs were lame and body sickly, she had a large, pumping heart that filled her chest with pride and it became the source of her immense energy.
As a very determined and calculating girl who had strong ambitions and a sense of her greater place in the world, she would make plans every five years. Her first and second plans involved making herself independent from her father and living a self-sufficient life without paternal support, which she knew had gone from being a help to a hindrance. She found a job as a seamstress, hand-sewing trousers and shirts and dresses for people in the village and though she earned very little and the work was very difficult and tiring, after ten years she saved up enough money to find a small house where she lived on her own in the village without her father’s support and she felt reborn.
For her next five-year plan, she decided to buy a big steel sewing machine which she could use to make clothes that she would send to other villages. This was a very ambitious plan and many people in the village said that her dreams were too big for a young woman with no resources of her own and they also became angry because in order to buy the sewing machine she had to borrow money from her errant mother, but she was stubborn and did it anyway.
The sewing machine was powered by a treadle connected to a pedal which you pumped with your left foot.
As she was a cripple, this was very difficult but she persevered and over time her left foot grew strong and through her hard work and perseverance she became a prosperous woman in the village.
However, while her left foot developed into that of a healthy young woman her right foot grew smaller and shrivelled so that she couldn't control it any more and sometimes it would spasm involuntarily and give way beneath her and betray the rest of her body when she was in public. In response to this, she began carrying a walking stick with her, and whenever she felt that her right foot was about to lash out, she would beat it with the stick. But the foot grew accustomed to the pain so she had to thrash it harder and harder. And though she had become a wealthy woman, her body would rebel against her from the pain it was enduring until one day she decided that she would have the foot removed altogether.
What she didn't realize was that there was a fine nerve in her foot which travelled up her leg, through her body directly to her heart and one day, before she could have the foot amputated, she had a heart attack and died for the fourth time.

Part 3: A Conversation between the Building and its Architect

Speakers: Kim Swoo Guen, Woo Kyu Sung, Namyeong-dong Detached Office of the National Police Headquarters, The Future Asian Culture Complex in Gwangju
Namyeong-dong Office: So at what point did you agree to design government buildings?
Kim: From early on in my career, I worked for the government and was involved in the planning and redesign of the city structure. We wanted to design a completely linear city, which would express the drive for modern development in the country through the integration of the city structure, transportation system and urban architecture into a unified, organic whole all linked by pedestrian decks.
NDO: So from the outset, you were developing ideological structures for the military government to exert their vision?
Kim: Well, I was the CEO of the public firm which handled all of the governments engineering and development contracts so we were highly involved, yes, though I want to stress that our vision was deeply Modernist and Utopian.
NDO: Reactionary Modernism perhaps?
Asian Culture Complex: And how did you become involved in this project?
Woo: Well, I had been living and working abroad for most of my career, though I had designed numerous buildings in the city throughout the years. I answered the governments call for designs to rebuild a corner of the old kingdom which had been neglected and I was fortunate enough to be selected.
Kim: The cities I built were of coal and steel.
Woo: Mine will be of culture and light.
ACC: And how would you characterize my design?
Woo: As a lung rather than a heart for the city.
NDO: And though my name and function remained hidden, what happened within these walls was known to all in the city.
Kim: An architect cannot be held responsible for how his buildings are used. Having said that, I do regret that they were used in service of tyranny.
ACC: And at what point does the desire for openness and transparency in your design become a strategy of urban control? In a completely planned and regulated public space where there is no opportunity for a cobblestone to become a weapon of protest or for streets to become barricades I also argue that you risk ossifying history in the name of progress.
NDO: Which is as dangerous as ‘effacing’ that history, especially if that history is dark and clouded.
Kim: My career parallels my country’s history, and I think that as architects we parallel each other. The shift in my philosophy, away from the monumental towards the intimate and human…
Woo: …Is mirrored in the Neo-Humanism of my design, where the multi-functionality of the unit space…
Kim:…reflects a retreat into the model of the traditional house where the architecture links inner and outer space…
Woo:…where introverted structures link with extroverted features and the indoors and outdoors lead directly into each other…
ACC, NDO: And connect with the concept of Confucian geography in which natural forms become the nodal points around which architectural structures are built.

Part 4: The Wheeled Wooden Horse

The Wheeled Wooden Horse as a political apology and symbol of economic development In early 21st century, a giant wheeled wooden horse would often be given in uncertain times of transforming economic and political relations. It was given as a gift by central governing bodies to the small communities within their political territories to enhance their relations and encourage mutual productivity in burgeoning cultural-economic development at the time. While such a construction would demonstrate the prowess and power of the ‘giver’, it was offered with the intention to renew fraught relations by providing a utility to the ‘receiver’ and a message of hope and mutual cooperation. In Suprasian societies, experts believed the symbol of the horse referenced the hope and unification found in the ancient mythical story of the Kingdom of Solar. One day, while people had gathered to pray for a king to give them a sense of leadership, order and purpose, a horse emerged from a lightening bolt and bowed to a shining egg. After the horse had flown back to the heavens, the egg opened and a boy emerged.. When the boy grew up, he united six warring states.
In the year 2002, the first wheeled wooden horse was given by the government to the people of the ‘city of light’ as a practical peace deal. It was given with the intention of healing old political wounds, reunifying and equalising ‘separated’ communities and reorganising society through economics as an attempt to strengthen mutual benefits despite existing in a climate of severe competition and self interest. Commonly known to people then as a children’s toy, the wheeled wooden horse symbolically communicated an invitation to ‘play’ and ‘imagine’. On a larger scale, it served as a vessel or vehicle for travel and transportation. This was significant at the time as the horse was given to the community as an apology for past brutal oppression and neglect, to propel the community’s development forward as well as an exchange for letting the government carve large tracks through their land that they perceived would benefit the entire country. Such a vehicle was seen to help collectively transport the community not only on these new roads, but also on the networks these new roads were creating, connecting the community to the larger world that would carry them to new markets for their own economic activities. Special wheels were given for traversing this new landscape.
It was said that in the beginning the horse was celebrated and accepted by some, ignored by others and feared by many. Some were worried that such a fantastic horse would be attractive and abused by those from afar.

Symbolism of the Wheeled Wooden Horse
The horse was considered a solar symbol. A large head was associated with intelligence and wisdom, thus cultivating knowledge and creativity. It’s ‘luminous energy’ was thought to be a source of unification thus enabling a ‘Suprasian spirit’.
The eyes of the horse were associated with possessing a strong focus, success and determination, symbols that mirrored the economic ambitions of the regional government.
With sensitive and attentive ears, the horse could represent acknowledgment of past wrongs. Neck
The strong neck of a horse suggested strength in supporting the head (ideas) and in movement and mobility. It signified providing the means to power knowledge/culture based economic activities.
The large body of the horse foremost denoted strength, power and endurance and the ability to powerfully carry Korea forward.
Legs and hooves
The might of horse’s legs symbolised speed, freedom, travel and mobility, important characteristics required in achieving and maintaining efficient economic productivity as well as democratic freedom and human rights.
Mane and Tail
Such unique features signified beauty and grace, fertility, productivity and development of all kinds. Such features embodied the hope of fruitful future cultural and artistic traditions and practices and exchanges.
Because a horse possesses a large heart it powerfully suggested courage, nobility, faith, loyalty and devotion. Throughout history, man’s relationship with the horse has often being one of companionship during times of work and play. Thus, such characteristics proposed relationships, friendship, mutual assistance, working together and exchange.
Wood Material
The wooden material of the structure reflected its act as a mediator between the material (symbolised in the wood) and immaterial world (values carried in its symbolism) or harnessing the immaterial/spiritual values of culture in industry and market economies.
Represented strength in movement, development and advancement, both of individual and of collective society. The horse was associated with the sun chariot and ideas of creating hope and light in regional development and national spirit.
The wheeled wooden horse moves when pulled by a collective force. It suggests both a force of labour and freedom, a warrior spirit, a servile and brave fighter who brings one safely home, and a hardworking and fighting spirit to ensure a free and fair life. Such symbols were expressed in the ambitions of the government to harmonise economics with cultural development.
It was hoped the wheeled wooden horse would be multifunctional for the Suprasian community. These scriptures were found on each of the six wheels.
“Pull together!”
“Journey together!”
“Carry and bear goods/gifts near and far!”
“Speak to many!”
“Build together!”
“Play and entertain together!”


wheeled wooden horse
what do you bring?
what do you bring
in this time of spring?
your head's so bright
your eye's so strong
so much power in your neck so long
moving forward with legs of speed
is that freedom you bring for me?
knock knock knock on your wood
what will your heart un-veil?
knock knock knock on your wood
whats behind your mane and tail?
knock knock-knock knock knock-knock
knock knock-knock knock knock-knock
this is what it says
build together
play together
speak to all you meet
pull together
move together
bear gifts to those you greet

Part 5: From Counter-Cultures to Kitchen Counters or Steve Jobs was a Hippy

It's 1971, and my nostrils are stinging with the acrid smell of teargas. Students, protesters, hippies, kids really, all born after the war like me and all feeling an un-containable urge to smash the rigid values of our parents generation are being chased across the Berkley campus and being swiped at and beaten by cops in riot gear. My future business partner at Apple, Steve Wozniak and I narrowly escape the cudgel blows by running up a fire escape and hiding in an alcove and from our vantage point we look down on the unfolding scene and I say to Woz, 'Those guys think they're revolutionaries, but they're not, we are.'

It's 1974, and I've been travelling through India for three months, barefoot and threadbare, a nomad going from one ashram to the next, living on the free vegetarian meals offered by the Krishnas, trying to stave off gastro for one more day, and I am loving it. A guy I meet, a former marine from North Carolina who now works as a drug mule, presses a small tab of paper into my perpetually damp palm, and says, 'try it'. When I ask him what it is, he smiles, looks off into the distance and goes silent for a moment and then looks me straight in the eye and says again, 'try it'. As I close my eyes, I see a succession of cartoon like images that float across my field of vision, moving in time to the music coming from an old, beaten up speaker in a corner of the room. Then I start chasing glowing, technicolour cobwebs through attics of darkest space as the music continues to throb in time to the revolutions in form before my eyes as my feet leave the ground and I float off into the ether. This is one of the single most important events in my life. I'll remember this experience thirty years later when I am working with the Apple team to develop the music visualiser feature in the itunes.

It's 1985, and I've just quit Apple in lieu of being fired after the board of directors cast a vote of no confidence against me. Today, it is seen as one of the biggest blunders in corporate history, but at the time, the company men thought they were well to get rid of me. I was undisciplined, I'd hold late night meetings, send sprawling ten page fax memos to low level employees completely ignoring the corporate hierarchy and chain of command. They thought I was acting like a dictator but really, I thought of myself as an artist, and the company was my artwork. I had a vision which nobody understood, for a 'home computer' which would be like a 'bicycle for the brain'. While the board was concerned with sales figures and market shares I wanted to create a new model of corporate culture, which could attract and utilize great, creative minds to push the company into directions our competitors couldn't even dream of.

It's 1997, and I've just been rehired as the CEO of Apple after nearly twenty years and I am standing on stage at the Macworld Expo trying to impart one idea to the audience. That idea is that Apple isn't just a computer company, it's not just a corporation and we're not simply in the business of making boxes for people to get the job done. The core value of Apple is that people with passion, can change the world. Great artists like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso were the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes and they were the ones crazy enough to think they could change the world. That's what Apple is about, that's why I started it and that's why we were always ahead of the game at every level while I was captain and it's why they lost themselves in the years I was away when it became simply a business. Today, businesses and corporations study what I created at Apple as model for how the genius of the creative mind and its ability to innovate drives all the creative industries.

Part 6: The Democratic Impulse Embedded Within the Creative Class or 'The Central Party Committee is Really into Richard Florida'

There was a woman who was born and died many times. The sixth time she was born, she had a long memory in her muscles of the pain her left foot had endured in its previous lives. That memory of the pain embedded in her left foot, combined with the woman's resolve to never treat her own body with such barbarous cruelty again became the source of an entirely new philosophy of life. The woman made a conscious decision in this lifetime to invert the hierarchies which had governed her previous life, and allow her body to be emancipated from its domination by her mind. Instead, her decisions were to be guided by the independent demands and sensations of her limbs relayed to her heart and brain, which formed the basis of her life choices. Her mind was now entirely beholden to the mass of her body. At the same time, the revolt of her left foot against the rest of her body in her previous lifetime was reinterpreted as the originating event that had catalysed this new regime of thought.
The woman had a neighbour who owned a beautiful, old pair of dancing shoes beneath his bed that he had long forgotten about. Often, local children would steal into the house and wear the shoes into town where they would dance and entertain passers-by who would throw them coins. Though the neighbour was at first incensed at the discovery of the children's actions, his anger dissolved when he recognized the opportunity to capitalize on their value. He invited all the village children to dance in the old shoes, and collected the money and became so rich that he gave up working at the factory altogether.
The woman with many lives saw what her neighbour had done, and decided to imitate him by purchasing some dancing shoes as well. However, they were very expensive and she reasoned that since her right foot was already strong and she had wronged her left foot so brutally in the past, she decided to only buy a single shoe.
Perhaps what she didn't quite realize was that the shoes and the money she poured into them were not the source of the added value. In fact, there was something intangible and special about the children themselves which her neighbour had unexpectedly harnessed through that old pair of dancing shoes. Unlike the children's feet, her own left foot was damaged and undeveloped and couldn't be transformed into a skilfully coordinated instrument whatever shoe it was fitted with. In fact, the neighbour had come to realize this himself as the local children had rebelled against him by revealing his secrets to everybody in the village. The rebellious nature of the children was an important part of their identity as children, even though the neighbour and perhaps the children themselves had not realized it and it would be something the woman would have to contend with if she were to use them for financial gain.

Part 7: Wish You Were Here! Notes from a Nomadic Cyborg Community

We are writing to you to tell you about who we are, Perhaps you have seen us from time to time. Postcards are very fitting to communicate these reverse field notes. Like you, we are cyborgs too. Yet our ancestors were early peripatetic artists, individuals who offered their skills, craft or trade to those they encountered on their travels. Such nomads were common in post industrial societies. We consider ourselves as nomadic cyborgs who perform as cultural ambassadors, who like the international diplomats that came before us long ago, represent and periodically convene to discuss the progress of cybernetic flows. We are nomadic like ancient political and pastoral nomads in that we are transient beings. There is no division between our work and leisure time. Work is play is work. Our situated moments become our vacations. This makes us cyborgs for we embody loose boundaries and contradictions. We are neither one nor the other. Rather we gather though affinity and move through cybernetic feedback systems that are just as transient as us. The weather here is mostly sunny today. Wish you were here.

We’re glad to hear you received our first postcard. To answer you response, our concerns lie with cybernetic flows and processes. One element will always influence another. This is the principle we uphold the most. Our being reflects our belief and actions. As cyborgs we are neo humans encompassing parallel networks and contradictions, seeking unity in diversity, professing a universal outlook yet that is inherently anthrocentric in that it celebrates humanity’s unique ethic codes.. The immaterial is captured in the materiality of our work. Over the years our work has suggested a new mode of economy, a combination of various capitalist manifestations. On this island, storms are frequent but days are still sunny. Wish you were here.

Thankyou for your concern, but during tropical storms we like to play card games. Regarding the details of cyborg economies we favour the free market economy in order to be able to measure the ‘gross quality of life’. This is a desire for a point in our cybernetic ecologies, one of fleeting stability, for we realise that equilibrium can only be momentary in its own system that depends on critically weak and strong variables. Though the free market thrives on competition, where a few strong will always dominate and exploit the weak to ensure their desires are met. Look at the bee or ant queen and her colony of workers who support her network in order to successfully pass on her messages. Like the worker insects, we will always be the messengers. Tomorrow will be clear skies. Wish you were here.

Greetings again. We would be happy to tell you about our homes. We are island communities but only at some points during the year. In many ways we are georelational; networking by our formless geography, transcending geographical boundaries. Often we were seen as isolated, insulated masses. But our transient nature makes us transformative. For some time, our shape had a strong definition and we found ourselves suddenly stranded from supply channels. But as passing islands we can exist in such states and remain connected. We don’t exist alone but rather as sprouting archipelagos around terra firma, always wanting to transform as a bridge. Our activity demonstrates our desire to transcend the confines we have created for ourselves. Land was perceived to be surrounded by water. But islands are merely extensions from the water and vice versa. Our islands represent our very consciousness. Another fine day for viewing our surrounds. Come and join us soon!

Hello again. Why all these postcards? This is our way of telling our stories. Postcards are the best way for us to communicate across distances when we’re on vacation. We want to weave our personal and collective tales of our journeys and our developments. We desire for this personal to be shared. This is why we commonly use the expression ‘wish you were here’. Today we’re on a different island; we are further east so the sunlight is brighter. We may be passing your way soon…

We are all cyborgs, my mother would say. The fact we use postcards in this day of cybernetic technologies and ecologies is a testament to our cyborg way of life. But we are not hard cased machines, half stitched or encased by flesh. We are cute and furry. We are possessed by advanced neurowear that was once used to develop better prosthetic devices. Like the postcard, it has become an extension of who we are, our vital organ for communication to help us manifest emotional and intellectual states. I possess cat ears for enhanced aural strength. Perhaps you may think I’m involved with sound production but actually I am colour blind and I use my feline ears to hear colour. Such processes objectified promote mindfulness. Our emotions personified allow us to reflect. It’s a fruitful coupling of various ecologies; robotic, human and nonhuman. Nonhuman communicative feedback systems are quite remarkable. We are starting to take more cues from animals to create new modes of communicating, Robotic tails that wag when greeting a companion; jewellery or clothes that change colour depending on our mood; sound devices that rattle and hum to warn others when we’re agitated, we can literally buzz with excitement. Cyborg technology can collapse the internal/external states. It was long ago envisioned as something mythologically futuristic. But impossible combinations that once defined boundaries of the human, nonhuman, society and nature, artificial and natural have not only discarded these borders, but created new possibilities or hybridities that have and will become an integral part of being human. Today there was a light shower of summer snow. A unique occasion we wished you could have seen.